At Launchpeer, we’ve worked with over 200 startups in the past two years, and startup idea validation is always the one thing we can’t stress enough. We get it. You’re hyped about your amazing new idea. You think thousands of other people will be hyped about it, too.
So you funnel a bunch of time, money, and resources into building a product and hiring a team. You say to yourself, “This is going to be amazing! We’re going to be the next [insert notable VC-backed unicorn startup here]!”
Validate your startup idea
The thing is, you might truly have an amazing idea. You very well could build the next unicorn. But until you have proof that your product a) solves a problem, b) is enough of a solution that consumers want to use it, and c) they want it enough to pay for it, then sit tight before you invest thousands of dollars to plan a national launch. You really shouldn’t be doing anything other than validating your idea.
Think of launching a startup idea without validation, like roasting an expensive, 20-pound organic turkey for a dinner party, only to find out all the guests are vegetarians. Or spending hours whipping up the perfect batch of gourmet chocolate chip cookies for your neighbors, only to realize that they don’t eat gluten. Ok, so maybe I’m hungry… but you get the point!
If you launch, pivot or attempt to scale without testing your assumptions (validating your idea), you’re putting the cart before the horse. Customer interviews are literally the easiest (and probably the best) way to gain feedback (i.e. customer validation).
The result is real insight into whether your startup idea has demand, and exactly what features and functionality prospective users actually want.
Conduct customer interviews
We recommend conducting 100-200 customer interviews (and we mean customers–not just your best friend or uncle Bob) to get enough unbiased insight before you build a full-fledged product.
So how, exactly, can you get that much feedback in a matter of days? Here are 6 simple steps to get your idea in front of hundreds of potential customers.
1. Create an online survey
If you don’t have much time to meet people in-person or make a lot of phone calls, send out an online survey. Typeform has some great templates, but simple Google Forms work well, too. Ask open-ended questions (rather than ones that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’) to find out things like:
Do they experience the problem you’re trying to solve?
How does it affect them?
Is it a big deal?
What do they do to solve it now?
How is that going?
Is there anything they would change about their current solution?
Would they be willing to pay for a solution?
Use Bit.ly to create a branded shortlink to send out your survey via social media and email.
2. Create a list of prospective customers and find out where they ‘live’ online
No, I don’t mean look up their houses on Google Street View (That’d be creepy!). Figure out which sites they use most often and what blogs they’re reading and post your survey link there.
Are they active in Facebook groups? Share your survey there. Do they regularly use LinkedIn and Twitter? Direct message them. Are they regularly posting on forums like Quora and Reddit? Share your link there. Is there a local or industry-specific blog for your product type? Share a link the comments section of recent articles.
Make sure your post is relevant and not spammy. Keep your message simple and to the point. Something like:
“Hi there! I’m working on a for [startup name] and would love your insight. We’re not trying to spam you or sell you anything, just doing a bit of research before we launch. Would you mind taking a quick, 2-minute survey?”
3. Figure out where prospective customers spend time IRL and set up shop
Let’s say your target is millennial bar-hoppers. Head to a local watering hole at happy hour, ask if you can sit at a front table with a sign (or call ahead to double check with the manager), and let people know you’re collecting feedback for a new bar app. Consider offering an incentive like the chance to win an Amazon gift card or giveaway a drink koozie.
You can conduct actual in-person interviews and write or record their responses, or you can bring an iPad and have them fill out your online survey on the spot. Gyms, coffee shops, co-working spaces, grocery stores, and other public spots might work, too, depending on your target audience.
4. Conduct good old-fashioned phone calls
You can use the same list you compiled for LinkedIn and Twitter outreach, or make a list of local businesses that might fit your target audience. Your cold-call phone list should include a minimum of 50 phone numbers. Consider a lot of people will ignore random phone calls.
Leave messages if they don’t pick up (you can use a script similar to the sample outreach mentioned in tip #2) and ask for a call back if they have time to answer a few short questions. In case they don’t call back, make sure to clearly mention where they can take your online survey.
5. Attend industry-related events
This strategy is similar to tip #3, except you may get even more visibility if the environment is industry-specific and people are already there to network and learn. You can target large-scale conferences and casual meetups. Search Eventbrite, Meetup.com, Facebook, your local paper, or local, industry-related websites and blogs to find out what’s happening.
If you have the budget, consider event sponsorships to increase your exposure. Ask event organizers if they’d be willing to send your survey link to attendees.
6. Ask people to share
Include a simple request for respondents to share your survey once they’ve filled it out. Something like: “Thanks so much for sharing your feedback. We really appreciate it. If you know someone else who might be interested in what we’re building, could you please pass this survey along? We’d love to get their insight, too.”
Include a link so everyone you reach out to can share your survey via email or social media. Go an extra step and even craft some sample tweets with a click-to-tweet link.
Are you validating a startup idea? We’d love to hear how it’s going. Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Allyson Sutton is a freelance writer and content strategist who’s worked with early-stage startups and major tech companies like Citrix and Red Hat. At 23, she was the first hire at a nationally-recognized product startup and the following year, she helped launch and grow an award-winning network of co-working spaces across North Carolina. If she’s not building hype, she’s probably riding her bike around Charleston, SC or making a new playlist.